Gjusta Conversations: Studio Xaquixe

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One of our most beloved collections are the hand-blown glass "rocks" glasses, created in Oaxaca by Studio Xaquixe, a collective founded by engineer Salime Harp Cruces and artist Christian Thornton. Working closely with a group of talented Oaxacan glass blowers, Xaquixe has dedicated itself to both the creation of beautiful and functional glassware through a fully sustainable process, using recycled glass from nearby villages and in using alternative fuel to fire their process. We are honored to work with them on our collection of Rocks glasses, originally created for cocktails in our restaurants and now available in limited editions at Gjusta Goods. Read on to for more of our conversation with Salime. 

“XAQUIXE” means "at the base of the mountain" in Zapotec. What inspired this naming and how does it reflect the Studio's mission?

Mexico has two mountain cordilleras: The "Sierra Madre Oriental" and the "Sierra Madre Occidental," and both converge in Oaxaca, creating what is called "El Nudo Mixteco" (The Mixtec knot). We're located in the center valley created by these mountains therefore we work "at the base of the mountains."

Photo by April Valencia

Photo by Julie Pointer Adams

As an industrial engineer and an artist, what drew you to come together as partners to form Studio Xaquixe? 

As an industrial engineer my goal was to open a glass studio in Oaxaca, dedicated to the fabrication of mezcal bottles. When I finished my Masters degree in glass production I travelled to New York to study glass techniques. I found a beautiful glass center called Urban Glass in Brooklyn, NY. One of my teachers (and now my business partner) was the glass artist, Christian Thornton. Christian asked his students the purpose to be studying glass, and I said my goal was to open a glass studio in Oaxaca. He looked for me after class and offered to become my business partner, as he was interested in helping projects that would support creating jobs in developing countries, as well as working with recycled glass to help the environment. We became partners that same day and have remained so for 19 years. Our profiles have made a wonderful combination, although I have to admit he's more of an engineer than I am! 

Photo via the Studio Xaquixe Instagram

Photo by Julie Pointer Adams

Can you share more about the Studio’s non-profit arm, Procesos Proambientales Xaquixe (PPX)?

Studio Xaquixe was about to go bankrupt in 2011, since prices for propane gas had an abrupt raise. 85% of glass studios in Mexico actually closed. Christian and I decided on researching renewable energies in hope of reducing our production costs.

After a thorough study of different fuels and developing a prototype oven and a special burner, we managed to use upgraded burnt cooking oil as a renewable energy, eliminating 40% of our energy costs. Some months afterwards, we learnt potters and mezcal makers in Oaxaca had similar challenges as ours. Therefore we decided to create our non-profit arm "Procesos Proambientales Xaquixe" (PPX).

Joining efforts with other non-profit organizations, different artisans and technology research centers, we have been able to carry out two technology transfers, achieving highly energy efficient ovens for potters and mezcal makers, as well as burners capable of combusting propane gas, upgraded waste oil and/or methane gas, instead of wood or propane gas.

Artisans who have started to adopt our clean technology and the use of renewable energies are not only lowering their production costs but are also reducing their CO2 and NOX emissions, as well as improving their health and the quality of their products. Our current studies are focusing on obtaining energy from stillage (vinases), the waste from the mezcal production process; if we succeed we will help prevent the contamination of rivers in mezcal producing towns, where vinases are currently being dumped at.

Photo via the Studio Xaquixe Instagram

Subtle irregularities, like anything made artfully and especially by hand, mirror the richness of everyday living. What stories are your pieces telling?

Xaquixe's glass pieces talk of our care for the environment and the everyday's events. When the glass is melted at 2300 ºF, as the cullet starts turning into a liquid it traps air, creating bubbles; from the tools used to shape the glass sometimes you'll see some lines or small "wrinkles," but all of these are proof of the benefit to the environment!

And yet all of our glass pieces are very resilient! This is because we use computers — one to make sure the glass is melted properly so all its particles are homogeneous, and a second one to temper it, slowing down the time it takes to completely solidify in order for all the particles to come together in an arranged way. 

On the other hand, each Xaquixe artisan reflects their personality through the pieces they create. Not all of them make the same pieces: Ramon and Miguel like making pitchers, while Eli and Sebastian prefer to make jicaritas and wine glasses, and Leo and Pablo make most of the tumblers. They all have a different style, creating the texture in the glass pieces and the shapes. The way they blow, the temperature at which the glass is formed, the tools they use, the way they move their hands, and so on...everything leaves a signature. 

Photo by April Valencia

What's a favorite beverage you’re making with your glasses right now? 

Our favorite beverage we're making with our glasses are mezcal based cocktails!

Try mixing cold orange juice with a touch of mezcal...maybe add sobe crushed ice! and some grenadine; and if you have it available, apply some crushed hot pepper and salt around the glass lip. We call it "Donaji" cocktail, named after the Mixtec princess "Donaji."

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